Monster She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson is a collection of brief essays — more like encyclopedia entries — about female writers who lean toward the macabre, the terrifying, even the gory. You can read it like a reference work or straight through, taking notes on which authors appeal to you most. Broken into eight section, Monster She Wrote begins with writers like Ann Radcliffe and moves on to famous names like Elizabeth Gaskell, Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, V.C. Andrews, and Anne Rice. There were plenty of names I didn’t know, too. Although largely a collection about straight white women, there is some diversity of authors in Monster She Wrote, including a few lesbians, black writers, and an Afro-Latina. If memory serves, all authors are from the U.S. or the U.K.
Though written by two academics, the tone is playful, suggesting something that doesn’t take itself too seriously. When describing the time during which Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, the authors write, “The trip reeked of teenage angst and clandestine affairs, with a good dose of young rebellion and spring-break hormones mixed in.” Perhaps this is an effort to sound cool, more relatable to horror readers. I didn’t mind the tone, feeling instead that truly picturing young Shelley as a teen and comparing her to teens I see today made her more real.
Unfortunately, each chapter felt too short, giving me information I felt confident I could Google or find on Wikipedia. A snazzy tone doesn’t make up for that. And when I got to Part Three: Cult of the Occult, I grew bored with how repetitive it was. All the occultist women writers sounded like they were essentially borrowing from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. Of course writers borrow from and are inspired by (and sometimes steal from) other authors, but a in female-focused text, the tendency to point to male writers was glaring. Twice I marked where the Kröger and Anderson called women’s stories “Lovecraftian.” Why not reference other female writers instead of comparing them to men? The tendency to turn my attention to famous male writers had the effect of making me wish I was reading the individuals famous for starting the trend, not the people (in this case, women) who followed and mimicked.
While I planned to add several authors’ books to my Goodreads TBR, I kept getting disappointed. Many of the lesser known writers are out of print or can only be found in certain corners of the internet, if you look hard for a used copy of a book. The 1970s and closer is when I started adding books to my TBR. Kathe Koja’s The Cipher, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, and Elizabeth Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us all were added.
I went back and forth on adding Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. I knew she her book was controversial for many reasons, including sibling incest, but the series continues on for eight books, and I can’t get into another series right now!
Overall, I wasn’t impressed with Monster She Wrote. It lacked the depth of Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss and included books that already appeared in Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix. (All three works were published by Quirk Books).